This story was republished with permission by The Meek School Magazine.
When Wilson Stribling (’94), a news anchor/ reporter for WLBT in Jackson, enrolled at Ole Miss in 1992, he had no idea he would discover his passion. He was a summer school student, working toward a degree in marketing at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
“My parents lived in Oxford, so it made sense to spend part of my summer in class to keep up and knock out some credits toward my degree at SMU,” Stribling said. “One day I picked up a copy of ‘The Daily Mississippian’ that someone had left on a desk. Inside, there was an ad for anchor tryouts at ‘Newscene 12,’ as the campus newscast was then called. I had always been interested in TV news, and the ad said you didn’t have to be a journalism student, so I went to try out.”
During that time, Stribling got hands-on experience and discovered his love for broadcasting.
“The student who was running the station that summer, Jennifer Green, ‘hired’ me to come and anchor the 15-minute newscast twice a week,” Stribling said. “My first newscast was with Sharyn Alfonsi, who already had a lot of practice by then. She and Jennifer helped me along, and I got hooked. I eventually learned just about everything from them and the other students who made that newscast happen every day.”
Sharyn Alfonsi, a CBS “60 Minutes” correspondent and Ole Miss alumna, remembers working with Stribling on the campus newscast.
“He was a transfer student and walked in, and started anchoring as if he had been doing it his entire life,” Alfonsi said. “I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ He was so good it was maddening. I soon realized his talent was God-given, but also the result of the fact that he is a true student of journalism.”
After the summer of 1992, he attended SMU for one more semester before transferring to Ole Miss as a full-time student. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
Stribling said that Ole Miss really helped to prepare him for his career.
“When I was at Ole Miss, it was one of only a handful of schools with a daily, live, student-produced newscast,” Stribling said. “That was invaluable in preparing me for what a real job would require. At most other schools, an internship was the closest students could get.”
Alfonsi said Stribling may have recorded network broadcasts on a VCR.
“I believe he had a library of tapes,” she said.
“We always tried to emulate the networks. Generally, horribly. We pulled cables out the window of Farley Hall to do ‘live shots’ …. we were so happy with it. It was basically put together with Scotch tape.
“Wilson also held wonderful dinner parties at his parents’ house in Oxford,” Alfonsi said. “Beautiful, seated dinners. We were used to hanging out at the Exxon eating chicken fingers, so we thought he was super-sophisticated. They were wonderful, memorable nights. Some of the best. He’s always been a class act.”
Before his current position, Stribling worked for news stations in Texas and Ohio. Finally, he decided that he wanted to move back to Mississippi.
“I took my résumé tape to all three stations in Jackson,” Stribling said. “The news director at WJTV sent me a rejection letter, and the one at WAPT did not respond. Dennis Smith, then the longtime news director at WLBT, called and hired me almost immediately. That was in January 1998, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Stribling began as a morning news anchor at WLBT. Ten years later, he transitioned into management as an assistant news director and then as news director, overseeing the news department’s expansion to the Fox affiliate in Jackson. In 2014, he returned to the morning anchor desk. He currently anchors two hours of news on WLBT, then two more hours on WDBD-Fox 40 along with the noon newscast on WLBT.
“Wilson Stribling did what very few other Ole Miss graduates do — he moved home after graduation and began work,” said Ralph Braseth, clinical professor and student media manager at Loyola University Chicago. “Stribling’s career is remarkable and, perhaps most important, he’s had the unusual and high privilege of serving Mississippi as an exceptional reporter and anchor. I couldn’t be prouder of an Ole Miss Rebel.”
Since being hired in 1998, Stribling has covered many big news stories, but the biggest perhaps, was his coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“The most significant story I’ve covered was Hurricane Katrina,” Stribling said. “At first, no one really knew how bad it was in Mississippi, except for those who were down on the coast. Even the reporters in the midst of it had a hard time showing the magnitude of the destruction.
“One the day after the storm, we at WLBT sent our helicopter to fly the coast and shoot as much video as they could get. As soon as they were within transmitting range of Jackson, the news director put me on the air to break into regular programming to show everyone what the chopper crew had found. We were all dumbfounded as pilot Coyt Bailey calmly described the horror we were witnessing on live TV. The folks up at NBC in New York were also watching, and they ended up using much of that video on that evening’s edition of ‘NBC Nightly News.’”
Ole Miss had a huge impact on Stribling’s life by allowing him to gain experience in the field of broadcasting even before graduating.
“I have been interested in TV news for as long as I can remember, but not until I actually sat in front of a camera at Ole Miss did I believe I could pursue it professionally,” Stribling said. “The experience at the campus station and the reaction I got from my peers encouraged me to give it a shot.”
Stribling has a few words of advice for current Ole Miss journalism students.
“Write, write, write. The best writers tell the best stories, even if they never get a chance to write them down,” Stribling said.
“Journalists have to think on their feet, and you can’t compose your thoughts well enough to tell a good story if you don’t have a strong foundation in writing. Words can be powerful agents for change, and it’s a journalist’s responsibility to use them wisely. The best reporters have a strong foundation in good writing.”
By Blake Alsup, a senior, integrated marketing communications major from Ripley, Mississippi
The Meek School Magazine is a collaborative effort of journalism and Integrated Marketing Communications students with the faculty of Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Every week, for the next few weeks, HottyToddy.com will feature an article from Meek Magazine, Issue 4 (2016-2017).
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